As a progressive, politically active American, I frequently take part in discussions about how to realize progressive ideals in American politics. These discussions, naturally, turn to strategy, and often turn into heated arguments about the merits of voting for Green Party candidates. However, the Green Party strategy discussion usually arises in reaction to another topic; I have rarely seen a discussion that is dedicated to the subject of whether the Green Party offers a viable progressive strategy, though I have seen editorials on progressive sites railing against any strategy that veers from the orthodox progressive Democrat strategy.
As a progressive who has become an advocate for the Green Party as the most viable vehicle for progress, I would like to open serious discussion on this topic among the community of progressives. I ask that you approach this discussion with an open mind and a respect for open debate, and that you read the entire piece before responding. I'll try to make this comprehensive yet concise. Without further ado:
A Progressive's Case for a Green Party Strategy
1. The State of Politics in America
The current political state of affairs in the United States is alarming. The global financial collapse has brought us the worst economic crisis of our lifetimes. The super-rich are getting richer and more powerful, while the vast majority are getting poorer. The US is mired in two expensive, bloody wars with no end in sight. The scientific evidence about the state of our planet grows steadily worse, yet politicians take no action. Our civil liberties are being revoked by a growing police state. On measures from poverty to life expectancy, the US standard of living is quickly dropping on the charts, aided by our expensive but ineffective health care system.
Progressives have solutions to these problems, but have been unable to turn their solutions from ideas into public policy. For the purposes of this article, "progressives" are defined as people who generally support democratic regulation of the economy, progressive taxation, fair trade, a strong social safety net, single-payer health care, a more peaceful foreign policy, action to protect the environment and prevent global climate change, protection of civil liberties, and human rights.
Many progressives hoped that Barack Obama would turn US policy in a progressive direction once elected president. Although Obama has pursued the agenda of corporate and military elites less brazenly than his predecessor, the direction taken by the ship of state is still very much the same. Obama and the Democratic-controlled Congress supported the Wall Street bailout, the largest upward transfer of wealth in history. His economic advisors, led by Larry Summers and Tim Geithner, have continued to implement the neoliberal economic ideology that has concentrated America's wealth in ever-fewer hands while bringing the real economy to its knees.
Obama has continued Bush's wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, the "graveyard of empires" and now host to the longest war in US history. He has escalated not only the war on Afghanistan, but also the war on the US Constitution, both defending and expanding on his predecessor's dictatorial claims of executive power, as Glenn Greenwald has so ably documented. Obama refused to join the global community in condemning the Israeli military's massacre of activists in international waters or the military coup in Honduras, a nation that still bears deep scars from US government intervention. Obama's retention of Bush's Secretary of Defense was no mistake he plays by the rules of the military industrial complex.
Obama has taken no action on climate change, although he has attempted to open vast areas of pristine ocean to offshore drilling for oil (shortly before BP's Gulf of Mexico oil spill hit the headlines) and secure taxpayer-backed loan guarantees for nuclear power plants, which could be described more truthfully as bailout guarantees. The refusal of the world's wealthiest country to address climate change doomed the Copenhagen Climate Conference, which was possibly the world's last best chance to prevent catastrophic climate change, to failure.
The Democrats' health care reform bill, which is touted as the major accomplishment of the Obama administration to date, attempts to solve America's health care problem by giving huge public subsidies to those who caused the problem: the for-profit health insurance industry. Obama's personal role in removing the "public option" and key drug price controls from the bill for the benefit of industry groups has been well documented. The resulting bill will not control costs, and it will not provide universal coverage. It will enrich profiteering corporate interests with public dollars, and it will ensure that Americans continue to pay more than any other country in the world for a health care system that the World Health Organization ranks 37th globally.
After bailing out the financial speculators who brought down the economy with trillions from the US Treasury, Obama and the Democratic majority paid back labor for its diehard support with a relatively puny stimulus package that progressive economists, who had seen the financial crisis coming when neoliberal economists utterly failed to, unanimously condemned as too small and poorly targeted a halfhearted leap across a gaping chasm. Instead of targeted aid to spur demand, much of the Democrats' stimulus came as middle-class tax cuts and corporate tax breaks. This time, progressive economists were doubly right: the weak stimulus failed to end the recession, and its failure was seized upon by corporatists to discredit the Keynesian economics that had brought unprecedented prosperity for decades after the New Deal.
As the economic order propagated by corporatists in both establishment parties takes its toll on the working class, right-wing demagogues deflect the resulting rage away from the economic power elite and towards the easily scapegoated other: immigrants, gays, Muslims, blacks, and the educated liberal class. The Democratic Party, which is staffed by, ideologically wedded to, and financially dependent on the economic elite, will not direct populist anger at the real culprits of the crisis, as Franklin Roosevelt did. A rising tide of special interest money in elections is driving both parties to the right, while voters feel caught in the seemingly hopeless choice between one party that wants to keep driving towards the cliff, and an opposition party that wants to step on the gas.
What are progressives to do? First, we would do well to stop hacking at the branches of evil, and turn our attention to the roots.
2. The Roots of Evil, part 1: Corporate Money in Politics
During the health care debate of 2009-10, polls consistently showed that 45-60% of Americans favored a single-payer system, while 65-75% favored the "public option", a government-run health insurance plan that would compete with private industry. Yet the final plan passed by the Democrats had neither. But doesn't common knowledge hold that the Democrats represent the "left" half of America, while Republicans represent the "right" half? If that were the case, the Democrats would have pushed for single-payer and included the public option without question. Instead, they paid lip service to the public option while killing it behind closed doors, and even fought on behalf of the insurance industry to preclude any mention of single-payer. How did we get to the point where our government is dominated by two parties that, on basic economic issues, are well to the right of the American people?
The answer is that in the 1980s, when Ronald Reagan was beating the Democrats with an easily accessible anti-government message that corporatists were all too willing to bankroll, Democratic Party leadership decided that the best way to compete with Reagan Republicans was to stake their own claim on the gold mine of corporate campaign cash. In return for funding both sides, the corporatists gained the assurance that whether the socially liberal or socially conservative team won, economic policy would prioritize maximal corporate profits as the highest good. Progressives got their first strong taste of the new bipartisan consensus during the Clinton administration, which succeeded where the Republicans had failed by passing so-called "free trade" agreements such as NAFTA and WTO. These agreements, written by corporatists to enshrine maximal profit margins as the defining principle of international law, represent the greatest surrender of democratic sovereignty in the history of the United States.